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CENTENNIAL SPECIAL ARTICLE

Evolution of imaging and management systems


in orthodontics
Chester H. Wanga and Lisa Randazzob
Chatsworth, Calif

Orthodontists have long been among the most progressive of the dental specialists, quick to embrace new tech-
nologies for enhancing clinical efficiencies and practice workflow. Orthodontic software innovations, whether for
imaging and clinical applications or for managing the business side of a practice, have led the consistent need for
more powerful computing requirements for more than 4 decades. This article recounts the history of how com-
puters and orthodontic software have been used in America from their nascence to today and provides an
outlook for the future. (Am J Orthod Dentofacial Orthop 2016;149:798-805)

It has been said that in life two things are inevitable: did not graduate from business school. They wanted—
death and taxes. May I add a third (though not so vi- needed—to have an accurate idea of their financial
tal): the application of the computer to orthodontic situation. Clerical tasks such as accounts receivable,
research and diagnosis. past-due control, basic patient history, and reporting
Wilton Marion Krogman, forensic anthropologist were the minimum capabilities expected from the com-

T
puters of the time. More progressive orthodontists were
hese were the opening words of American Associ-
using computers to calculate staff salaries and fee sched-
ation of Orthodontists’ annual meeting in New Or-
ules, and to perform sophisticated reporting.2 Tracking
leans in May 1971.1
appointments and recalls were also part of the functions
Orthodontics has long enjoyed a reputation for being
of those early systems. “The 1980s was definitely a
among the most progressive of the dental specialties. Its
period of early adopters,” recalled Todd Blankenbecler,
practitioners were using computer technology for clinical
manager of Dolphin Management Development (Chats-
pursuits as early as the late 1960s, although it remained
worth, Calif) and former national sales manager at
primarily within the realm of researchers and academi-
Orthodontic Practice Management System (OPMS) and
cians for the first decade or so. It was not until much later,
PracticeWorks. “Key features in those early systems
in the early 1980s, that mainstream computer technology
were billing statements, insurance tracking, automated
caught the attention of Main Street orthodontists—this
letter writing, and basic reporting.”
time as a possible solution for the clerical tasks involved
Dr Marc S. Lemchen, a New York City orthodontist,
in running an orthodontic practice.
was a forerunner of the movement driving computer
Harnessing computer technology to tackle the sched-
technology into the orthodontic practice. He was using
uling and financial tasks was the first pursuit in the early
an early form of a computerized treatment card while
days of practice management software systems. An or-
the rest of the crowd was still impressing itself with billing
thodontic practice is a business, and most orthodontists
statements and “thank you” letters. “In the beginning,
From Dolphin Imaging & Management Solutions, Chatsworth, Calif. there were only 2 practice management systems on the
scene,” remembered Lemchen. “There was no digital im-
a
Director.
b
Manager, Marketing & Communications.
Address correspondence to: Chester H. Wang, 9200 Eton Ave, Chatsworth, CA aging, or digital x-rays, or any kind of image-
91311; e-mail, chester@dolphinimaging.com. management systems. But we had the treatment card,
Submitted, October 2015; revised and accepted, March 2016. so we didn't have to pull a chart for the patient unless
0889-5406/$36.00
Copyright Ó 2016 by the American Association of Orthodontists. we wanted to see the x-rays.” That was the early 1980s.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ajodo.2016.03.016 At that time, any “state of the art” system had about
798
Wang and Randazzo 799

10 MB of memory and a footprint the size of a small Tracing of the cephalograph was done manually until
refrigerator.3 For the sake of perspective, today's entry the early 1970s, when Robert M. Ricketts created a
level smartphones have 16,000 MB (16 GB) of memory computerized cephalometric tracing/visual treatment
and fit in the palm of your hand. objective system. Today's cephalometric tracing pro-
grams often contain hundreds of analyses, any number
The 1980s: embracing technology and forging of which can be performed simultaneously by the doctor
forward or skilled staff (Figs 1 and 2).7
In 1988, Dolphin introduced the DigiGraph, which
In typical fashion, technology advanced at such a
used sonic echolocation—similar to what dolphins
pace that by 1984, a dozen computer companies were
use—to gather cephalometric information, thereby elim-
hawking their wares to orthodontists. “The industry
inating radiation from the process. The DigiGraph's
really took off in 1984,” remembered Reid Simmons,
components consisted of a cabinet with a digitizer
computer science professional and founder of OrthoTrac
probe, computer, monitor, head holder, microphone
(Carestream Dental, Atlanta, Ga) and Cloud9Ortho (Ken-
array, video cameras, and software. “Since the DigiGraph
nesaw, Ga).4 That year, the American Association of Or-
predated the general availability of digital cameras, the
thodontists held a winter meeting in Dallas, and
most practical way to get the patient's lateral photo
handouts offered at the meeting reviewed the practice
into a computer was to use an analog video camera
management systems that were currently available.4 By
signal fed into a frame-grabber circuit board in a com-
this time, orthodontic practice management systems
puter,” explained Ken Gladstone, manager of Imaging
could perform a variety of tasks, including registration,
Software Products at Dolphin and a member of the orig-
financials and accounting, appointments, insurance in-
inal DigiGraph team. “The image would then display the
formation, and treatment information.
video on the computer screen, allowing the user to grab
Additional tasks available in programs at that time
a single still image from the video feed.” The digitizing
included payroll, general ledger, inventory, and more.5
probe placed lightly on the patient's face would send
Most of the first practice management systems were
sonic signals to the microphone array positioned above
installed on UNIX platforms. “In 1982 OrthoTrac ran on
the patient's head. “Then the computer used the signals
the Oasis operating system and was limited to 5 worksta-
to triangulate the probe's exact location in 3 dimen-
tions,” said Simmons. “In 1983, we switched to UNIX,
sions,” said Gladstone. Combining the data sets allowed
which could handle up to 11; later it was unlimited.”
the practitioner to perform cephalometric tracings and
In the late 1980s, DOS-based systems began to appear,
analyses, superimpositions, and virtual treatment objec-
and by the mid-1990s, the first Windows-based systems
tives (Fig 3).8
(Microsoft, Redmond, Wash) were being introduced. By
Whereas the concept of the DigiGraph proposed an
the 2000s, most of the platforms being sold worked
interesting direction, before long it became apparent
with Windows.
that the traditional method (x-rays) of gathering cepha-
Although orthodontic imaging systems joined the
lometric imagery was more complementary to the other
game later, their roots reach back far earlier to the onset
parts of the orthodontist's tool set.
of the computer technology in the late 1960s. That is
when Robert M. Ricketts, affiliated with Rocky Mountain
Orthodontics Data Services (Denver, Colo), announced a Standardization of data
computer portal service for orthodontists. The idea was
In 1983, the American College of Radiology joined
that a doctor would send a lateral head x-ray, a photocopy
with the National Electrical Manufacturers Association
of the impressions, and a diagnostic sheet, and receive
to form a committee dedicated to creating a standard
back a computed analysis of the x-ray along with a growth
method for transferring images and associated informa-
prognosis and treatment plan. The emerging computer
tion between devices manufactured by different ven-
technology of the era inspired others in the orthodontic
dors. In 1985, they released the first version of what
community to consider the diagnostic possibilities. A
was called standard version 1.0, with version 2.0 released
few years later, Geoffrey F. Walker published a report in
in 1988. This version prompted medical device manufac-
the American Journal of Orthodontics suggesting 177
turers to adopt the standard, thus further streamlining
cephalometric landmarks for computer analysis.6
medical imaging for everyone involved—including soft-
ware developers, practitioners, and patients. In 1993,
Digitization of cephalometrics
version 3.0 was released with a name change to Digital
Introduced in 1931 by B. H. Broadbent, cephalomet- Imaging and Communication in Medicine (DICOM), in
rics remains a vital diagnostic tool for orthodontists. hopes of improving international acceptance.9

American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics June 2016  Vol 149  Issue 6
800 Wang and Randazzo

Fig 1. Computerized cephalometric tracing. (Image courtesy of Rocky Mountain Orthodontics Data
ServicesÒ, RMOÒ Inc, Denver, Colo.)

Game changer: the digital camera manufacturers. Many developed relationships with the
Orthodontics seized diagnostic and task-based op- most progressive practitioners to best anticipate the
portunities from computer technology at a steady pace needs of the profession (Fig 4).12
throughout the next 2 decades. It was the introduction
of the first consumer digital camera in 1988 and its The 1990s: digitizing of information continues
steady cost decline over the next decade, however, that The last decade of the last century saw more prac-
jump-started imaging in orthodontics and set the stage tices embracing computerized management systems as
for integration of all parts of the practice workflow.10 features and functions were added and improved.
Digital image data meant that the practitioner could Scheduling programs became more sophisticated, as
organize the patient's image data so that is was easily did treatment charting and reporting. Electronic insur-
accessible and not vulnerable to deterioration caused ance filing became an option, as did multioffice support.
by time and environment. Also, the practitioner could Imaging systems, though still separate programs, began
import those images into the practice management sys- to interface with practice management systems. “Doc-
tem, further customizing patient charts and enhancing tors had to buy their imaging system separately, and
communications such as letters.11 As more and more in- then the separate software companies would write
formation became digitized, the streamlined practice some basic integrations to improve workflow,” recalled
became the end goal of both equipment and software Dr Lemchen.

June 2016  Vol 149  Issue 6 American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics
Wang and Randazzo 801

Fig 2. Screen shot from the Dolphin Imaging Ceph Tracing software program. (Image courtesy of
Dolphin Imaging & Management Solutions, Chatsworth, Calif.)

During the 1990s, imaging grew to enable the inte- because of consolidation. “These companies began
gration of digital x-rays. In 1996, Sirona (Charlotte, NC) to mature to the point where they were sold and
introduced Orthophos Plus DS, the first digital panoramic combined,” explained Dr Lemchen. “The industry
cephalogram. This was a milestone in that it allowed was consolidating, and so in the early 2000s we
practitioners to put x-rays into a patient's electronic saw OrthoTrac change hands several times.” The sur-
chart. Shortly afterward, computer-aided design/com- vivors soon developed their own imaging software,
puter-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM) technology— and Dolphin Imaging's customers were requesting
already entrenched in dentistry since 1987 when Sirona a practice management system from the company.
introduced its CEREC unit—wiggled its way into ortho- In 2004, Dolphin Management was released. The
dontics. CAD/CAM gave practitioners a way to digitize industry on the whole was seeing a lot of move-
study model data and incorporate those data into the pa- ment.
tient's record. In 1999, Align Technology (San Jose, Calif) “We began to see the first wave of migrations to
was the first company to offer a digitizing service the second generation practice management sys-
(OrthoCAD) to the orthodontic community,13 followed tems,” recalled Blankenbecler. Some of the key
by eModels (GeoDigm, Falcon Heights, Minn) in 2001. new features being introduced included (1) support
That same year, the NewTom 9000 (Quantitative Radi- of commercial grade databases such as the Micro-
ology, Verona, Italy) was installed at Loma Linda Univer- soft SQL server, (2) patient sign-in with finger-
sity (Loma Linda, Calif), marking the first installation of a scanning, (3) third-party integrations, (4) integrated
cone-beam computed tomography (CBCT) scanner for payment processing, and (5) improved multioffice
dentistry in the United States. Thus, computer technology support.
continued to push orthodontic imaging forward and into This decade also saw the initial Health Insurance
the next century (Fig 5). Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA)
awareness and need for compliance among practi-
Turning the century: consolidation, integration, 3
tioners. Software developers responded by incorporating
dimensions, and the Internet
increased security features into practice management
By the time the 1990s had rolled into the 2000s, systems. These included encrypted e-mail and secure
practice management companies began to disappear user rights for staff login.

American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics June 2016  Vol 149  Issue 6
802 Wang and Randazzo

Fig 4. Digital data made it possible to integrate imaging


and management systems for a more streamlined work-
flow. (Image courtesy of Drs Gary and Todd Weinberger,
Fig 3. The Dolphin DigiGraph was featured on the cover Plainview, NY.)
of the June 1990 Journal of Clinical Orthodontics.

stored in a database, allowing the practice to use this


Online patient communications platform to communicate important messages such as
By this time, the Internet and the electronic services appointment reminders, birthday wishes, and practice
it made possible had become firmly entrenched in news, events, and contests. Positive results of these on-
mainstream business operations. Although most ortho- line patient communications included fewer no-shows,
dontists had a Web site with general practice informa- increased staff efficiency, and enhanced patient satis-
tion, they were still spending too many staff hours faction. Many practices augmented these online com-
fielding and returning patient phone calls. Further- munications with telephone reminder programs
more, Web sites at that time were static—much like a offered from companies such as JulySoft (Tucson,
phone book listing—so potential patients visited once Ariz), TeleVox (Mobile, Ala), and Tel-A-Patient (Santa
but never returned. There had to be a way to integrate Ana, Calif).14
the Internet into the workflow of an orthodontic prac- In the early 2000s, Dolphin introduced Anywhere-
tice. In 1999, PT Interactive (Tukwila, Wash) was Dolphin, allowing doctors to securely share files with pa-
created to develop a software system that would save tients and referrals through the Internet.
staff time and give patients convenient access to
needed information any time of day, without a phone Embracing the Internet
call. The system was called Ortho Sesame (Seattle, As early as 2001, the concept of delivering orthodon-
Wash), and it worked by extracting patient data from tic practice management software through the Internet
the practice management system and converting it was being discussed in the model of an application ser-
for integration into the practice Web site. This enabled vice provider. The idea was that the software would be
patients to access appointment and account informa- run by a service provider off site, rather than by the
tion any time of day, eliminating approximately a third orthodontist in the office. The orthodontist then would
of the practice's incoming calls. A side perk of this sys- be free of the hassles of backing up data, updating the
tem was that patients used their e-mail address to ac- software, and maintaining complicated hardware. All
cess their information. The e-mail address was then of this would be handled by the application service

June 2016  Vol 149  Issue 6 American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics
Wang and Randazzo 803

Fig 5. The NewTom 9000, first installation of a CBCT unit for dentistry in the United States. (Courtesy
of QR s.r.l., Verona, Italy.)

Fig 6. Smaller, more capable hardware offered mobility and portability to the orthodontist. (Image cour-
tesy of Dolphin Imaging & Management Solutions, Chatsworth, Calif.)

provider.15 Just 2 years later, in 2003, the first Web- significant difference from previous versions was that
based practice management system was introduced by the server for the network was not located in the doctor's
Advanced Orthodontic Systems (Brooklyn, NY), when it office, and connection to it was through the Internet.3
released its Internet Program delivery upgrade. The Today, we call this “cloud computing.”

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804 Wang and Randazzo

Volumetric data sets space for consulting companies that specialized in help-
By the mid-2000s, 3-dimensional (3D) imaging was ing the orthodontic practice engage with patients on
piquing the interest of the progressive players in the or- these new platforms. Practice Genius (San Diego, Calif)
thodontic community. Within a few years of the New- and Digital Sign ID (Richboro, Pa) are 2 examples of
Tom installation at Loma Linda University, there were this new specialty in the orthodontic consulting arena.
a handful of companies manufacturing CBCT machines,
and soon the i-CAT (Imaging Sciences, Hatfield, Pa) What's next?
would become the most popular unit on the market. As predicted by Dr Krogman in 1971, the future of
An appealing aspect for practitioners was that a CBCT practice management systems will continue to move
scan could serve as a patient's singular data set from forward in step with computer technology. Currently
which to derive all the traditional views of an orthodon- on the horizon are the increasing applications—and
tic workup.16 Software companies scrambled to deliver accessibility—of 3D printing with medical-grade,
user-friendly programs that would enable the practi- biocompatible materials. Software developers have
tioner to render these volumetric data sets. Some of already begun to deliver tools for the creation of
the main players with orthodontic focus included oral appliances directly from the virtual patient, with
3dMDvultus (3dMD, Atlanta, Ga), Dolphin 3D, and InVi- the ability to output in the standard .STL and .OBJ
voDental (Anatomage, San Jose, Calif).17 These 3D file formats accepted by most 3D printers. The ability
rendering programs provided tools for orientation, land- to create highly accurate, customizable appliances for
mark identification, measuring, tissue segmentation, each patient enables the orthodontist to deliver more
superimposition, and more. effective treatment.19 The printers themselves
continue to be designed with smaller footprints and
The 2010s: going mobile and getting social more affordable price tags, making them more
Only a few key players remained as the decade rolled compatible and accessible for the orthodontic office.20
over. “Most new practice management installations were Already in use by progressive practitioners, this tech-
conversions of existing systems,” said Blankenbecler. nology will no doubt find its way into the mainstream
“This was when we began to see demand for support orthodontic office.
of mobile devices such as tablets and phones.” Faster Keeping in step with technology for more than half a
bandwidth and smaller, more capable devices finally century, orthodontics will surely continue forward at the
made mobile computing a feasible concept in the ortho- same pace, setting the standard for all the other dental
dontic practice workflow. Powerful onboard computing specialties and raising the bar for dentistry in general.
capability, large memories, oversized screens, and open
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
operating systems that encouraged application develop-
ment had shifted the paradigm of the “mobile phone” to This article is dedicated to the memory and vision of
that of the “handheld computing device.”18 OrthoTrac Dr Robert P. Scholz. A good friend and mentor, he was
and Dolphin were the first to introduce mobile applica- the founder of Ortho2 and played a key role in establish-
tions that allowed orthodontists to access their practice ing Dolphin Imaging as a viable choice in the early days.
data from a smartphone or tablet. Soon, Dolphin His unconventional view of the orthodontic world
released a patient-facing app, offering yet another chan- inspired the Dolphin team and a generation of ortho-
nel of communication between the patient and the dontists worldwide.
orthodontist (Fig 6).
A decade after the first cloud system was introduced, REFERENCES
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